Did the Emergency allow the Indira Gandhi government to ignore the concerns of Industry Ministry officials in allowing Union Carbide to produce methyl isocyanate-based pesticides in India?

For five years, the company's application for an industrial licence lay pending, with officials in what was then called the Ministry of Industrial Development feeling that its “technology was obsolete” and being “dumped in India.” Finally, four months after the Emergency was declared, the licence was granted.

The entire department was against granting the industrial licence, according to R.K. Sahi, who was then Deputy Director in the Ministry. “We knew that it was discarded technologies being transferred to India. It was obsolete in the U.S., but it was being dumped in our country. We all knew that,” Mr. Sahi told The Hindu on Monday. A retired member of the Indian Economic Service, Mr. Sahi has also served as Deputy Adviser to the Planning Commission.

He added that “these things were finally decided at a high level,” but added that rumours of political interference flew around when the licence was finally sanctioned.

“It was only hearsay, but those things are being confirmed now, are they not?” he asked. “They had been trying since 1970. They only got it during the Emergency, which was not a democratic government. So whatever somebody wanted to do, he did it, or she did it,” he added.

Union Carbide applied for a licence on January 1, 1970. Mrs. Gandhi invoked Article 352 to declare the Emergency on June 25, 1975. The licence was granted on October 31, 1975.

In his June 7 verdict, Chief Judicial Magistrate Mohan Tiwari notes: “The Government of India and the Team of Scientists admittedly was never permitted to visit the Plant at Virginia, USA. No brochure, or any other documentary evidence demonstrating the similarity between the two plants at Virginia and Bhopal has been produced before the court by the defence.”

Alleging that a licence would never have been granted had not the Emergency been imposed, Gopal Krishna of the NGO Toxics Watch says: “There is a compelling logic for an independent probe in the entire issue ranging from granting of industrial licence” to later issues such as the escape of Warren Anderson and the lobbying of industrialists and ministers to absolve Dow Chemicals of liability.

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